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Clara Zacharaki – Georgiou

The Cycle of 1974

The Turkish invasion of Cyprus in July 1974, after the treason of the Greek Junta that tormented the Greek people for seven years, came as a knife that ripped open the heart of Hellenism of Cyprus.

Being from the mainland of Greece and having lived the suffering of its people, the pain was heavier and the sense of shame for these terrible people, who were born to Greek mothers, literally crushed me. As a child, I have lived through the experience of the Nazi invasion and occupation of Greece, the loss of my brother, the civil war and the atrocities that Greek people went through.

Experiences that have severely traumatized my childhood soul. The destruction of Cyprus was the peak of a long, painful series of events that had opened up those wounds. I have tried to show this pain through visual expression, the only way that could express my pain and protest.

The loss of loved ones, dead or missing, the anticipation, day after day, for the return of the captured and the tragic hours of mothers and loved ones waiting, refugees and the uprooting that became real again for my mother, crushed my own heart.

In the beginning, I couldn’t draw; little by little the first drawings using ink and pencil were ‘born’. I always fondly remember our great etcher Tassos who warmly told me: “Welcome to the black and white world”.  In time, I started adding light colours to an almost grey world. In the end, I gave this experience light and cool colours, an experience that haunts me up until today, since the wound of Cyprus remains open.

Painting Cyprus

I paint the landscapes of Cyprus, the non-tourist areas. I believe it is the continuance of my previous work, even if the human figure is not present. I want to show our space, our landscape with its character, the elements that make up this character. The white earth with which the statues that we see in our museums was made of, the red earth, that was the ingredient for all the ancient vessels and for our folk tradition, the vibrant light and colour of Cyprus.

I am not attracted to extraordinary beauty of landscapes, the ones that may attract a tourist. I draw the landscape we usually pass by without notice, the one that we may not even like, because we have learned to look out for something else that was imposed on us by foreign norms. I am drawn to paint the abandoned mines, the scorched fields from the blinding Cyprus sun, that eats up and dissolves forms, the small villages, the secret strand of a beach coast.

This work of mine, I would like to hope, gives something more than a pictorial landscape. Because, when I paint the landscape, I don’t feel that it’s something separate from the person that lives in it, shapes it, works it.

Cyprus – Aegean

A form, a flower, a rock, a tree trunk, a challenge.

A visual challenge, a challenge of poetry. The human form with its tenderness, skepticism, melancholy, eroticism, sings life. The bowels of the earth, a song of plastic forms and colour, reveal the structure of the world.

The knotted branches, the twisted shoots, a source of nature’s wisdom, invite you to move to the rhythm they weave in the air. They play by hiding the light and emerging from it, leaving windows between them that beckon you to a journey away.

Dry, scattered wild weeds and flowers that astound you with their rare shapes and their intricate forms. You travel the world and absorb its beauty with all your senses. You wish you could render something from this magic. The world has ugliness and distortions, but does art have to reproduce it? It’s about time we gave a little beauty to the tired people.

Poetic

Since my childhood years I had a special love for folk songs. These songs, which for centuries the Greek people have been reciting or singing and, with which they express their longings, agonies, their place in life. Tradition and history together with the philosophy and wisdom of a people, settles within its folk poetry which, distilled through the centuries, remains clean of any excess. It holds only the essential, the flower of thought and soul of the people.

So, it is these songs that have been sung for centuries by our people, and have always captivated me, that I have tried in this cycle of works to portray visually. Through colour and shape, to show the eternal conflict of Good with Evil, of Light with Obscurantism, of Love with Hate.

Nostos
(Return)

In 1978, I went to London and for the first time I saw what I knew only as the “Elgin’s Marbles”. The Marbles of the Parthenon. The shock was great. The pain, not only for the theft but for the general notion of uprooting that I have lived, was devastating. I left crying. Probably another crazy woman to the other visitors. In the next few years I visited the museums several times.

It had been years that this longing worried me and when the modern Greek governments re-approached the issue, I was greatly pleased. It was then a mature time of me to externalize this longing with the only way I knew. I want to share this work with the Greek and Greek- Cypriot people. Maybe I can help them a little in expressing what we all want so much, their return.

When I started drawing the Marbles of Parthenon, I already knew how beautiful they were. Besides, it is this beauty that also sealed their fate. But working with this traumatized beauty, the more I was studying it, the more I was possessed by the agony of such a big attempt. Would I be able not to hurt them myself?

But, on the other hand, I loved them more and more; I was falling in love with them. Thoughts, ideas, yearnings, longings and this endless love, all these I tried to put there, on the canvas. Did I succeed? I don’t know. One thing for me is for sure: My love for the Marbles, but also for my work. Because these redeem me from the pain.

•    The first Stage Designer in Cyprus.
•    Won a competition where her drawings decorated the cents of the Cypriot pound since 1983.
•    Her works are on the coins of FAO and on the silver medals for the Young Olympics Games. FAO chose 5 coins from all over the world.
•    In 2004, there was a competition that was to announce Cyprus’ EU accession. Her work is now decorating the new currency of Cyprus, the Euro, on all the coins, gold, silver and bronze.
•    The silver coin depicts Nereus, son of Poseidon. It was awarded the Best Coin in the World by one of the largest mints in Europe, the Vicenza Nomismatica.
•    The Coin Museum and magazine of Colorado, U.S.A. awarded the same coin as the Best Coin in the World. It was chosen out of 25 countries and 16 million members.
•    In 2002, the exhibition of her work titled ‘Nostos’ travelled to Thessaloniki, Athens, Nicosia, Luxembourg and Brussels for the return of the Marbles of Parthenon. The opening of the exhibition in Athens was done by Jules Dassen who was an avid supporter for the return of the Marbles.

Interviewed by Natalie Hadjiadamos

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